'Black Panther' Spoiler Review: For a universe starving for great villains, Marvel bungles two of them
While there's a ton to praise about Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, be it the script, cast or the Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack, the film feels like a missed opportunity in one big way.
With all the success Marvel has earned with its cinematic universe, the MCU has always had a villain problem. Maybe that's more on Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, but alas. Tom Hiddleston's Loki has been declawed to the point we'll need to see a majorly heinous act during the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War for anyone to take him seriously.
So what happened here?
We've been treated to Andy Serkis' portrayal of Ulysses Klaue or Klaw since his first appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron back in 2015. Aside from Erik Killmonger, who we'll get to, he's historically been Black Panther's chief antagonist. Where Killmonger is almost a sort of Darth Vader, Klaw is your pure evil Emperor Palpatine. In the comics, it's actually Klaw who manipulates Erik's father into subversive actions against Wakanda, leading to the man's death and his family's exile to New York.
Where we saw glimpses of Serkis' Klaw in Ultron, he's reached peak wild card in Black Panther. While it's a ton of fun to watch Serkis' unstable Klaw drop 90s Haddaway lyrics and crotch humor, it takes the starch out of the character meant to be the arch nemesis of a hero like T'Challa, one of the greatest minds in the Marvel universe. Klaw's eventual death at the hands of Erik was perfectly inline with the MCU's version, but to see him, or his body, turned into a plot device for Killmonger's return to Wakanda is a short-sided waste.
While comic Erik gains re-entry into Wakanda through a ruse of begging for forgiveness with plans for a coup d'état, the MCU's version scoffs at diplomacy and largely takes the throne by force via challenge. We lost a major villain so Erik could have a slightly quicker path via the support of W'Kabi and his tribe? Too steep a price if you ask me.
That brings us to Killmonger. In a vacuum, Michael B. Jordan did a tremendous job with the character. Given some context, it's another disappointing misstep from the MCU. For all of T'Challa's brilliance, Killmonger is right there with him. The pair are intellectual rivals. While the film mentions Killmonger's time at the United States Naval Academy and MIT, it chooses to highlight his military service as a berserker former SEAL to legitimize his badass-ness. Aside from being a quick and lazy attempt at character development, it's a swipe at the Special Forces community painted as a breeding ground for trigger-happy killers.
Killmonger is a physical Adonis, but more than that he's a brilliant strategist. He's Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish in the body of He-Man. He's been resurrected (like, magically) in the comics multiples times be it via his followers or by the Mandarin, but after Iron Man 3, I doubt we'd see the MCU take that plunge. With more Black Panther films assumedly on the way, it's disappointing to know a star like Jordon and marque villain like Killmonger won't be along for the ride. I guess in a universe with Infinity Stones, anything is possible.
(image via Marvel Studios)